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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Bullying inquiry receives harrowing submissions

An ACT Government-established inquiry into the management and minimisation of bullying and violence in ACT schools has received numerous submissions from a variety of stakeholders outlining a host of concerns.

The Standing Committee on Education, Employment and Youth Affairs has decided to release most of the submissions they received, with some names and details being redacted to protect identities.

Internally, there were reservations about releasing the submissions due to the potential for individuals and schools to be identified.

The inquiry is currently holding a number of private hearings into the matter.

One submission from a concerned parent detailed the instances of bullying her son received shortly after starting at a public high school, and their subsequent struggles and frustrations in rectifying the situation.

“Our family unfortunately experienced violence at the priority area school from the very first day,” the submission read.

“My son witnessed increasing incidents of violence, culminating in one of his friends by the end of the week being punched to the ground and kicked while being filmed.

“Within the next week we had had five phone calls from the school. These documented incidents of my child witnessing a king hit on a child, rocks being thrown, threatening children with being hit, and general gang behaviour.”

It reached a breaking point for the parent when their son was attacked in the playground.

“He was sitting eating his lunch when an older student came over and coat hangered him around the neck. The student then walked away and came back with a friend and kicked my son in the stomach.

“I immediately contacted the departmental liaison unit and the police. My son provided a statement to the police and I requested a transfer of him from his current school.

“I was denied a transfer, then I was denied my first appeal. Shocked and appalled that I could not remove my child from a very difficult situation,” the submission read.

The inquiry also received submissions from other parents, teachers, peak bodies including Menslink, unions, councils and associations representing a variety of stakeholders.

A submission from the Independent Education Union of Australia NSW/ACT Branch outlined the frustrations held by many of their members regarding their legal capacity to intervene in violent situations.

“Of particular concern to our Union is the increasing fear our members feel towards their own career safety if they intervene in violent situations.”

They pointed to academic Clem van der Weegen’s paper Defining ‘Reasonable Force’ in the Modern School Environment as an example of the “Catch 22 situation” school staff find themselves in when confronting violence in schools.

“He (van der Weegen) also points to the confusion and lack of certainty frontline school staff have in regard to their legal powers and protections,” their submission read.

While it’s unclear how many hearings are expected or for how long that process will take, a final report from the Committee is expected to be tabled on 24 October.

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